The Harvard University-led study also found that the disease had jumped to
Sierra Leone after 13 women became infected at the funeral of an herbalist –
a traditional healer who had been treating Ebola patients in Guinea.
It is customary in African burial rituals for mourners to embrace the body of
the deceased, and health agencies have warned that this could spread the
The authors found that the recent strain spread from Middle Africa within the
last decade, probably through fruit bats.
The study has also highlighted the high toll that the disease has taken on
health workers and scientists. Of the 50 co-authors who helped collect the
data, five have since died from Ebola.
Stephen Gire, a research scientist at Harvard, said: “There is an
extraordinary battle still ahead, and we have lost many friends and
colleagues already like our good friend and colleague Dr Humarr Khan, a
co-senior author here.”
The WHO yesterday said that controlling the outbreak would cost an extra £300
million over the next nine months and require more than 12,750 emergency
Dr Bruce Aylward, WHO’s assistant director-general for emergency operations,
said the current crisis ‘far outstrips’ any historic Ebola outbreak.
“What we are seeing today, in contrast to previous Ebola outbreaks:
multiple hotspots within these countries – not a single, remote forested
area, the kind of environments that have been tackled in the past.
“And then not multiple hotspots within one country, but international disease.”
The 20,000 cases figure, said Dr Aylward, “is a scale that I think has
not ever been anticipated in terms of an Ebola outbreak.”
On Wednesday Air France canceled all flights to sierra Leone by Dr Aylward
said airline restrictions were hampering the emergency effort.
“Right now there is a super risk of the response effort being choked off,
being restricted, because we simply cannot get enough seats on enough
airplanes to get people in and out, and rotating, to get goods and supplies
in and out and rotating, so this is a big part of what has got to be sorted.”
Meanwhile volunteers in Oxford will be given an experimental vaccine against
Ebola in fast-tracked emergency clinical trials to begin in September, it
has been announced.
The vaccine will use a single Ebola protein and will not infect the subjects
with live Ebola virus.
At the same time that trials are beginning at Oxford University, up to 10,000
doses will be made to ensure that it can be more widely used quickly if the
trials are successful.
The vaccine being developed by GlaxoSmithKline and the US National Institutes
of Health is being fast-tracked with a £2.8m grant from the Wellcome Trust,
the Medical Research Council and the UK Department for International
British nurse William Pooley, 29, of Eyke, Suffolk, is continuging to be
treated with experimental drug ZMapp at the Royal Free Hospital in London
after contracting the disease in Sierra Leone.